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DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

Dear Miss Manners: I am always polite when co-workers with whom I am not friends say "What are you doing for the weekend (holiday, Christmas, Easter, etc.)?" Sometimes I say, "Nothing special" or "I haven't decided yet," but what I want to say is "None of your business" or "Why do you ask?"

Why are these people interested in what I am doing? I have absolutely no interest in their lives! My friends (and I do have some at work) either know what I'm doing because we've discussed it, or they know not to ask. Any boss I've ever had would never be so intrusive, nor would I to them.

How do I convey to these people that I find their questions annoying and intrusive so that they will stop asking?

And while we're on the subject, "How was your weekend?" is annoying as well. I don't care how their weekend was, so why should they care about mine? This one is easier to handle, however. I just say "Fine, thanks" and leave it at that.

Gentle Reader: And they don't say, "Fine in what way? Where were you? What did you do? What's the full story here?"

No, because Miss Manners doubts that they are burning with curiosity about your weekends and holidays. Asking is merely a polite convention. If you doubt this, try giving a detailed description of how you went to the grocery store, watched a DVD, had coffee with a neighbor, thought about exercising but never got around to it and so on. See if they hang on your every word.

Your "Fine, thanks" works. The equivalent, when asked for your plans would be something like, "Relaxing, I hope" or "I don't know, I have so much to do, I don't know where to start." There is no need to register annoyance at a mere show of politeness.

Proper mourning

Dear Miss Manners: I am no longer clear on what is the appropriate etiquette regarding periods of mourning. A close friend's mother died the day before Thanksgiving. While she had been ill for some time, her passing was rather more sudden than anyone expected, I believe.

Now the holiday season is upon us. I know it would be inappropriate to issue invitations to my friend for large gatherings. At the same time, I don't wish him to feel excluded or abandoned. Would it be appropriate to invite him to small dinners?

Gentle Reader: The reason you are not clear on this is that the situation is no longer clear. Since the demise of formal mourning, which specified the period of time that one did not go out socially, the bereaved all decide for themselves.

Thus it is equally possible to upset them by inviting them, as if had nothing happened, and by not inviting them, as if you have abandoned them. Miss Manners recommends asking your friend if he feels up to attending a party or if he would prefer a quiet dinner.

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